Over the past decade, pop culture as a whole has moved towards embracing the counter-culture, and the rise of the grindhouse aesthetic is part of it. Unfortunately, the grindhouse aesthetic is also one that seems to have been
misinterpreted and misrepresented by almost everyone attempting to tip their hat to it. What started as an intentional reflection of an era's political consciousness combined with an earnest level of exploitation has turned into an
excuse for poor acting, lackluster direction, cheesy writing and a visible lack of budget -- things Sugar Boxx reflects in spades.
After a letter from the mother of a former classmate tips her off to potential foul play, reporter Valerie March (Geneviere Anderson) discovers a thick air of corruption hanging around Florida women's prison Sugar State Penitentiary.
Hoping for a big story, she convinces her editor to go along with a ridiculous plan in which Valerie dresses like a hooker and gets arrested in Florida. Naturally, everything works out exactly the way she wants, landing her on the inside
without any indication she's sniffing out a story (all within the span of an hour or so; the legal system works swiftly in the world of Sugar Boxx).
Not surprisingly, everyone at Sugar State is corrupt, starting with Warden Beverly Buckner (Linda Dona), drunk on her own power, and continuing all the way down to the sleazy guards, who rape and then murder a prisoner. It's hard to
tell: is the scene where they drag her out of bed and rip her clothes off supposed to be shocking, exciting, or even titillating? Writer/director Cody Jarratt doesn't seem to have any idea, heaping a catfight, lesbian sex, and an escape
to a higher-class part of the prison where the girls are trotted out as sexual party favors for a bunch of lecherous city officials without any real sense of rhyme or reason. Even the escalating amount of stuff going on is foiled
by the budget. Usually, in these kinds of films, prison corruption is believable because there are walls preventing the public from watching, but there's nothing covering up prison guards openly whipping women at Sugar State, which is
entirely outdoors and looks like a run-down park (not once in the movie do you see actual, traditional prison bars), while the "resort" area is an average suburban home without any sign of alteration or decoration.
Given that the cover promises the girls will get machetes, one might hope a bit of righteous violence will keep the film from being a total write-off, but the story wanders around without a solid idea of what Valerie wants out of her
infiltration of Sugar State. Physical proof? First-hand experience of the atrocities? Hopefully abuse makes the list, because that's what she gets day in and day out: she's shoved in the "hot box" (a sweaty, sauna like isolation tank),
whipped by the warden, forced to do manual labor, and assaulted by fellow inmates. At the very end, after a failed escape attempt blows her cover and the justice system fails her completely, Valerie finally gets angry, but it feels like
a lame trump card Jarrett has been gleefully hiding up his sleeve instead of a legitimate pay off.
One of the keys to a film like, say, Coffy, is actually its sincerity. As embodied by Pam Grier, the viewer is meant to take Coffy's mission to keep drugs off the street seriously, while the film still finds time for the
characters to hide razors in their hair and drag bodies behind cars. None of the people involved with Sugar Boxx seem to feel like they're doing anything other than a lark. It's disingenuous, rendering Sugar Boxx a flimsy
attempt to Xerox the drive-in age by people who don't seem to understand it beyond its most surface elements.
As far as these things go, the artwork for Sugar Boxx is probably the best thing about the movie, depicting Anderson and co-star The'la Brown, cuffed together, wielding machetes, while respectively dressed in hooker/prison outfits. The case is an ECO-BOX, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Sugar Boxx looks and sounds like a modern, low-budget motion picture on DVD, with an ever-so-slightly soft 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The film generally looks like it was shot in cast and
crew's homes, without much lighting to speak of, and while the image is colorful and clear, it'd be hard to say the film looks all that good because it'd be hard to say it looks like much of anything at all. As far as actual compression
issues go, there are some jagged edges here and there and occasional digital artifacting during the night scenes, but nothing too serious. The sound mix is exceptionally quiet and hollow, with multiple layers of sound being quite a rare
occurrance. Music comes off as flat and lacking in richness or weight. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided.
"Inside the Boxx: The Making of Sugar Boxx" (15:00) is half standard making-of piece with the usual self-congratulatory interviews with the cast and crew, and half dull outtakes tacked onto the end. No idea why the two extras weren't separated. "Tura Breaks Shit" (0:45) is a very short bit with the late Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! star Tura Satana, in which she breaks a few props. Fans of the actress should note that this 45-second bit is longer than her cameo in the film itself, so only completists need bother (the same goes for Jack Hill). Finally, there is an audio commentary by director Cody Jarrett, producer Joey Stafura, and actresses Geneviere Anderson and Kitten Natividad, which is essentially the following, repeated over and over: Jarrett offers a vaguely interesting production memory, Anderson laughs at her hair, and Natividad makes a sexual joke.
The disc opens with trailers for Jolene, Night of the Demons, and Blood on the Highway. Three original theatrical trailers for Sugar Boxx are also included.
It takes more than music from Coffy dropped into a scene to make something that reflects the style of the period, and Sugar Boxx doesn't have it. Skip it.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.